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INT: Jon Heder


Jon Heder has become synonymous with the character he brought to life in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Much to everyone’s surprise, soon, the whole country was proudly wearing “Vote for Pedro” and other clever bits of dialogue on their t-shirts. Although fads tend to die, Jon is back opposite Billy Bob Thornton in SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS as a man trying to find his identity in an unconventional course for losers.

I had a chance to meet up with Jon and although shades of Napoleon seem to creep in every so often, he is an actor with a flair for comedy. He stopped by The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to chat about Billy Bob Thornton, tennis and what it’s like to be a cheetah (and of course “tater tots”). Jon is friendly, funny and it’s nice to see a slightly different side of him in Scoundrels.

Jon Heder

Jacinda [Barrett] just told us about you and Billy Bob doing the tater tots and fried potatoes number.

She wasn’t there, was she? Oh yeah, she was. She came in late. She was like, “Do it again.” I was like, “Sorry.”

Was it filmed?

No. But we said we wanted to. We joked… We still talk about it (it) would be great to shoot a little short film. So, you guys get the resources together…

Is it easy for you to play the loser?

Yes it is because it’s not being comedic; it’s just acting like me. No, especially this character was fun. It was kind of more like I looked at it as like, “Okay, here’s my chance to kind of play more of the natural me, kind of the straight guy.” But I was reminded yesterday when I saw the film for the first time that he really is a pathetic, sad person at the beginning. I forgot about that, so I’m not that sad and pathetic in real life. But yeah, a lot of Roger is kind of how I was in high school. I had no confidence with women. But I wasn’t too… that much of a pushover in my work. But I don’t know, I mean I was very similar. I started to get more backbone as I got older but not when I was younger.

Did you ever read a self-help book?

I never read a self-help book except for the Bible. The Scriptures is maybe the closest thing. But I never owned a self-help book. I’m not that into reading. If I’m gonna read, I’m gonna read some cool sci-fi book or something, not some stupid self-help book. Although I did pick up The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I tried it because it (it) was such a popular book. I read it for two seconds and I just didn’t get into it. I was like, “I’m highly effective.”

How is it being on set with Billy who’s completely the opposite? You are more… you don’t do coffee, or don’t swear; he’s the opposite.

It’s a real thing just as in the movie. They’re polar opposite. It was kind of like that. But, obviously, the cool thing about acting and just like the business world is, like he is very different but he was nice. Very… he’d get right into character but in between we’d sit down, we’d talk, he’d tell stories. The three of us had a lot of fun. We’d all joke around. He was very cool, very nice. It was really cool, he was very nice to all of the crew, everybody really liked being around him.

You didn’t find his behavior shocking?

No, it wasn’t shocking. Shocking is if I didn’t expect it.

Was there any improv with him?

There wasn’t a ton. I mean, we both liked the script and when the script’s pretty good, you don’t really go off the page that much. Every now and then we’d do alternate takes, but not a lot.

This is really your first romantic lead and you get the girl…

I get the girl in Napoleon Dynamite. I do, I’ll tell you [laughing]. I mean true, I don’t kiss her… I don’t know how he could ever kiss her.

Okay, I mean mainstream romantic movie. Was that cool when you read it?

Yeah, you root for the character. You want him to get the girl. I mean like any other romantic comedy, you want the guy to get the girl. I mean, yeah, it was like, it was weird, I had a complex shooting the film like, “Am I really…” Like the wardrobe people would always be telling me, “Don’t worry, you look handsome in this outfit. Don’t worry, when you kiss a girl it will be all worth it.” You know, like, “People will love it.” And I’m like, “Okay.” I will never know because I can’t watch it. I can’t watch it. I can watch the whole film, but I can’t watch romantic stuff. It’s awkward.

Do you find people who are offering you things working around what you will do? Who you are morality wise...when people offer roles do they cater to how you feel?

Sometimes, I mean sometimes they don’t know or sometimes they’ll send a script or that… I mean, yeah, people are very, yeah, I do find that actually. I don’t want to say surprisingly, but Hollywood ’s been very good to me. They’re very considerate when it comes to like… but it also depends on what kind of project they want to do. Sometimes I take my notes and go, “Okay, I like this but I’m not sure about this or that,” and if they’re up for it they’ll change it. But most of the films I’ve worked on they’ve always taken my notes and they’ve been very good about taking out stuff that I’m not comfortable with.

Ever play Paintball before?

Yeah. Reading the script it was one of my favorite scenes because it took me right back to in high school my friends and I would not, you know, where you go to the park and do it but we would do it full on guerilla-style in his backyard. I lived in Oregon so he had like huge forests and stuff and we’d go around shooting each other so that was very reminiscent of messing around. I remember my dad served in Germany during the Gulf War as a doctor, and when he came back he brought back from Germany these paint guns and we were like the first ones in our group of friends who had them. Basically it was the exact same thing. We just wanted to shoot each other. No one had any protective [gear]. We were shooting each other on the leg and really close to the crotch and I was like, “You’re crazy, let me get away!” It was almost the same thing.

Todd was saying you actually did get hit.

Yeah, I did. It was my, well it was kind of my fault. We had protective gear but it was like I felt like a robot and I could barely move so I kept taking it off. But all they had to do was shoot me in the crotch. And Matt Walsh, who was the main guy doing it, was right next to me and every time he’d be like POW, right in the chest. I’m like, “How hard is it to hit me?” And even when they had to shoot me they’d miss and they’d hit the inside of my leg and it would sting. So I had a couple of good welts. But they were battle wounds and I felt like a Klingon.

How did your life change since Napoleon [Dynamite]?

I’m doing this movie. I’m doing movies with Billy Bob Thornton and I mean, it’s I mean it’s like, huge. It’s changed a ton. I’m living in L.A. now making movies in Hollywood . That’s how it’s changed.

You have a production company.

I have a company. I mean it’s really; so many dreams have come true. I’d always wanted to, my brothers and I have always wanted to make movies. It’s what we always wanted to do. And before Napoleon I was finishing up college. I was a poor college student and I’d just gotten married. I didn’t quite know where I was gonna go. I was planning on becoming an animator, hopefully. But this kind of took off and I saw it as a chance to get into the business.

Still want to get into animation?

Oh yeah, I mean my brothers and I are trying to develop ideas for feature length animations.

You wanted to be actor as well, when you were a kid joined a theater?

Actually, CET, Childrens Educational Theater was kind of the big… I grew up in Oregon and that was the big thing around, in our city that all the kids, when they were in during summers, it was like a summer acting camp. I loved it. I only did it two years, I didn’t do it enough, but my older brother, my older sister did it all the years so that was really my only stage experience. I played an Oompa Loompa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But I loved it and I really enjoyed it but that was my first step into like performance and stuff.

When you were younger did you ever have a crush on a girl that, you didn’t pass out, but you were tongue-tied and you couldn’t talk to her?

Tongue-tied? Well, I mean, like I said in high school I really was like Roger. I mean, if I liked a girl, yeah I definitely was. I wouldn’t know what to say… But like, Roger, even Roger tries. I don’t think I would have tried, but he makes an attempt. Really painful, but he makes an attempt. I didn’t have the confidence. I had the confidence…I was confident that I had no confidence and so I’d be like, “No, I’m not gonna go talk to her because I know I will make a fool of myself, probably.” But I still, yeah I get a little tongue-tied in a traditional kind of like shy guy, and I, you know, there’s one girl I really wish I had made the move on and never did. Doesn’t matt er, I’m married now.


I’m married now so I can make the move on her whenever I want.

You’re having a baby. When is it due?

I think in the Spring. Not quite sure, but I mean, you know….the time of growth and plants coming up - sprout a baby.

How was the tennis scene?

Watching or making?


I mean, it was great. It was really a cool scene because it was very cinematic. It’s cool, I mean that was one of the experiences… when you’re shooting it you don’t know it’s gonna be that way. I mean the slow mo and the music building up. It was fun because Jacinda likes to play. I mean Sarah’s [Silverman] really good too. Sarah and Jacinda and I would actually play. Jacinda and I still have not finished our match. We started one and we were tied. I mean I’m better than her but she would always luck out for some reason or I’d get too aggressive. We haven’t finished. It was a lot of fun just playing. Anytime I get to do the physical stuff, I love to do that. It was a lot of fun to do because we were all there and I got to hit Billy Bob with the racket in the back of the head. It was a fake racket, but still, hitting him nonetheless.

When you saw it on screen what did you think?

It was great. It was just very, it really pulled you in. You forget what it was like shooting it. It pulls you into the moment. I mean, when you hit someone with that final swoosh, that was really good. Except I was like, “Wow, Roger’s a really good aim.” I was trying to hit real balls in the beginning when he was standing up front. It’s hard. I pegged him in the back for real quite a couple of times. But he was cool about it.

You are athletic?

Wait till you see the figure skating movie. I [fantasize] myself a natural athlete with a lot of klutz tendencies because I broke… I don’t always, I never did because I never got hard core into doing the physical stuff until I was older. I played all the sports when I was growing up but I really took to figure skating. I love that. I broke my ankle on that. But yeah, I mean, I always look like a goof doing it but I really enjoy it, and I take to it pretty quickly.

You are good at sports?

The ones I’ve tried so far, I think. I don’t know if I’d ever be great at football. I could run fast, but I don’t know if I could take down the big dudes.

Figure skating movie – that’s you and the two Wills [Will Ferrell and Will Arnet]?


What’s it called?

Blades of Glory


What’s your part?

I play opposite Will Ferrell and we are both Olympian figure skaters who have to skate together because they’re kicked out. They get in a fight, because they’re competing, they get in a fight; they get kicked and get banned from men’s singles. So the only way they get back in is through pair skating and nobody else will take them so they pair skate together.

Girl or two guys?

Well, they don’t pretend, no. they just like. I mean I’m going to be more the girl character because I’m lighter. He does the lifting. They skate together.

Do you spin?

Yeah, I think so. We have some pretty spectacular moments.

You actually did a lot of the skating?

Yeah, I did. I mean, we knew that all the fancy stuff was gonna be, like, doubled, but I mean we tried to get as good as we could and I love it. It’s a really fun thing to do. So I mean, each day on set I just got gradually better and better so by the end of shooting I was like, “Can we go back and re-shoot my skating, because I can do it better now?”

Is your big rivalry with Amy Poehler and Will Arnett?

Yeah, they’re the skating duo who are the bad guys.

How about the Ben Stiller sequence? How much of that was improv?

He would stick to the script but he would add a few little things every now and then and [he] was very funny. It was hard. I mean, my favorite part was just the end when we have that awkward moment together, just kind of looking at each other. And just dealing with all those cats. You never notice in the movies, but…

How many cats?

They had a lot. I can’t remember… there were like 30, at least. It was dirty. It was just a gross set. I mean I love cats, but these were dirty cats. They were everywhere.

You’re not allergic to cats….

I am. But I have two of them, so I can hold up if I don’t touch them too much.

You said last night you saw the movie. What was something that you saw that you can’t remember shooting?

What I don’t remember is how pathetic he is. I mean it really did catch me when I was watching the first third of the movie. I was like, “Gosh, I hope he redeems himself because it’s so sad. I just can’t see why the girl would ever hook up with him or why anybody would take him seriously.” But I mean, yeah, the traditional moments when like, “Oh, why did they cut that out?” Or you remember something that was supposed to be there for like timing reasons or whatever reasons. But really, yeah, the tennis scene was great.

How do you unleash your “inner lion”?

Through my pores.

What makes you want to unleash your “inner lion”?

When you see something you want, you want to go after it, I guess. I’m more of a cheetah because it’s more graceful.

You can run really fast?

He can run after prey, it’s just more graceful. And I used to be a lamb. Now I’m a cheetah.

Any talk about Napoleon Dynamite II?

Everybody talks about it; nobody ever shuts up about it. But, yeah, we’ve talked about it but nothing’s really happening. Honestly like, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it if you had all the same people working on it. But I think it’s just, we’re so busy doing other things its like, haven’t gotten around to it.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to [email protected].




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